WAHOO – For 22 years, Sharon Kenaston has brought old-fashioned country music to the area with the Wahoo Country Music Show, a week-long event in June that draws musicians and fans from all across the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put an end to the opportunity to produce a live music event, as Directed Health Measures from the state do now allow concerts and dances, said Kenaston.
So Kenaston has cancelled all live events connected to this year’s show, which is scheduled for June 23 to 27 at the Saunders County Fairgrounds. But that doesn’t mean that the music will be silenced.
Kenaston said so many of the fans and performers still wanted to come to Wahoo that she has retooled the event to be a musical campout.
“People are ready to get out and about and do something,” she said.
Kenaston is inviting people to come to the campground at the fairgrounds to relax, visit and play music. She is not charging admission, but the visitors must pay the fee for the campground.
The campground set up will allow the visitors to practice social distancing while camping and listening to music, Kenaston said.
“We can still gather and be safe and still have a good time,” she said.
Musicians from Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, South Dakota and Colorado are still planning to come to Wahoo.
“They will still be playing music,” Kenaston said.
The headliner, Justin Trevino, is heading to Wahoo from his home in Texas, Kenaston said. He may not perform, she added, but he will be there just to hang out with his musical comrades.
There will be no scheduled music events, but Kenaston expects that the musicians will set up in a circle and start to play, and others will join in to jam, which has always been a part of the festival. This time, instead of being a time-filler between performances, the jam sessions will be the highlight. The public can join in with their instruments or voices. She expects jam sessions to take place in open areas throughout the fairgrounds, sometimes simultaneously.
“I’m sure the number of musicians planning to be there will result in three to four jam sessions at a time throughout the grounds,” she said.
Area residents can also come down to the fairgrounds to enjoy the music for free.
“They will probably pull up in their vehicles and listen,” Kenaston said.
Or they can pull out a lawn chair and sit in with the musicians.
“It will be a good opportunity for the local people to see what goes on during the festival,” said Kenaston.
Weather can be a factor in this event. Kenaston said they will not use any of the buildings this year, so all performances will have to be outside. There are some covered outdoor areas at the fairgrounds that may be used if possible, she added.
Kenaston is expecting 50 to 75 campers to arrive for the event, which is lower than normal. The visitors to Wahoo can still be a benefit to the local economy that has been affected by the pandemic. The visitors will dine at restaurants and purchase food from local grocery stores because there will be no food provided at the fairgrounds, Kenaston said.
“Hopefully it will be a big boost for local business,” she added.
Kenaston is already working on the 2021 show, which she hopes returns to normal. All of the performers booked for this year’s show have already committed to next year, she said.
Kenaston founded the Wahoo Country Music Show 23 years ago. She was a resident of Wahoo at the time (she now lives in Lyons) and wanted to hear the type of country music that she loves, which is heavily influenced by the early days of the Grand ‘Ol Opry in Nashville, including the music of Roy Acuff, Eddie Arnold, George Jones and Loretta Lynn.
“We appeal to the retired age group because that’s what they grew up with,” she added.
But all ages attend.
“We encourage people to bring their kids and grandkids,” Kenaston said.
The festival has turned into a family reunion almost, as the same people return year after year.
“Over 23 years some incredible friendships have been formed,” Kenaston said.
Although Kenaston is not happy that the pandemic has altered the show this year, there is a bright side too. With no scheduled events, she will not be responsible to keep everything on schedule.
“I’ll be able to play some music,” she added with a laugh.